Football’s Flaws

Why the old pigskin is not as benign as you once thought


By Alexander Pralea, Editor

From an evolutionary perspective, humankind’s obsession with violence is natural. Anthropologists have long suspected that a primal sense of aggression endures in humans, butting its unpleasant head in honor killings and nonstop warfare, because it increases humankind’s ability to reproduce in niche environmental and social situations. Research on mice supports this assertion; used for their mammalian similarity to humans and high biotic potential, mice demonstrate that dopamine is released in response to aggressive stimuli. In turn, mice seek aggressive experiences because of the enjoyment associated with prior encounters, a move that offers evolutionary advantages in protecting offspring or a mate. A human penchant for violence evinces itself across human society, but namely in its perverse admiration for barbaric sports like football.

Football reigns supreme in the United States, where it has remained the most popular sport for the past thirty years. As boxing’s grip on the nation has eroded following a sequence of fatal meet-ups, football has continued to attract millions of Americans, as evinced by the recent hype surrounding to the 2019 Superbowl. However, science does not favor continuing to condone the rampant violence that consumes football.

While studies have long maintained correlations between football and long-term obesity and cardiovascular disease among 300-lb players, scientists are only now coming to a fuller understanding of how football contributes to the development of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, across short and long time spans. In a single season, even high-school football players undergo changes to their corpus callosum, the bundle of nerve fibers connecting the left and right hemispheres. Among older football players, repeated concussions or minor, yet more insidious, head injuries swell up brain tissue, killing nerve cells and causing cerebral bleeding and bruising. Over time, this prompts gradual degeneration of brain tissues and an accumulation of harmful proteins in brain tissue, thereby causing a form of dementia that is characterized by its persistent memory loss and impaired impulse control. Autopsies have affirmed the worst; of the 111 NFL players whose brains were examined by neuropathologist Dr. Ann McKee, 110, of all ages and positions, were found to have developed CTE. These autopsies reveal that the frontal cortex (devoted to executive cognitive functioning and abstract reasoning) and the amygdala (which plays a key role in the limbic system’s interplay between memory and emotion) are particularly affected. A systemic issue persists, yet Americans are not reacting as they should, the reason for which is attributed to the financial engine of the NFL and the inability of Americans to come to terms with the brutality of a sport that has become intertwined with the American psyche.

The National Football League has dedicated itself to steering the national debate away from the sport’s legitimacy to promises that it will uphold the integrity of the sport through vacuous safety changes. Portraying football as a unitive entity, integral to the American identity, it has used its ten-billion-dollar revenue, more than any other sport in American history, to manipulate the American people. The constant onslaught of deaths of high-school football-players and the untimely deaths of many CTE-stricken NFL players raises the question: when will the complicit NFL stop dirtying its hands by playing a role in the tragic deaths of sons, fathers, husbands, and brothers? More important, nevertheless, is the response (or, hitherto, lack thereof) of the American people. In an era in which Americans are re-evaluating age-old practices, football stands out as an anachronistic example of idealized violence. Unless serious changes revolutionize the safety of the sport, Americans should divorce themselves from this culturally ingrained display of brutality, which should no longer be a hallmark of American society and culture.


The purpose of this article was to foster a discussion about the merits of encouraging our youth to partake in a sport that so manifestly glorifies brute force. My opinion is that, given the overwhelming scientific consensus, people cannot continue to play football in its current form and that it must therefore be reworked substantially.